As a person who makes art, I want the work I do to work in a way that makes it something other than a piece of work. In other words, I am concerned that the act of making make something other than the thing made.

Working individually and collaboratively, I investigate the role photography plays in our navigation of realms both public and private. These practices take a number of forms. One example is the ongoing project For the Lack of Words, which functions as an intensely personal and subjective archive intended less for contemporary eyes than for those of the future. Begun in 2003, this collection of images, through a Whitmanesque rumination and love of the everyday, celebrates the ways in which people are similar. The archive numbers in the thousands and includes images made during a variety of situations: my cousin’s cherry-red boom box; semi-annual, semi-formal portraits made of friends and family; a friend standing on a rock in the middle of a river; lovers sleeping; strangers sleeping in public; and a series of pictures documenting the vexing dynamic between my mother and grandmother that concludes with an image of my grandmother’s coffin moments before it was lowered into the ground. Seemingly too personal to be of any consequence to those not represented in the archive, these images ask the viewer to take the time to look, empathize, and consider that with time all things matter.

Though rare, excerpts from For the Lack of Words have been exhibited at various institutions and incorporated into site-specific outdoor installations, often comprising hundreds of images pasted to exterior walls in large grids.

The collaborative and collection projects, such as Send Me the Pillow that You Dream On, You’re Invited, and Walking Blues, allow me to question my role as an artist as I study the impact vernacular photographs exert as material culture. Working collaboratively touches on my need for the work I make to impact others in a tangible way. It has come to define my role within my milieu, and reflects my curiosity for the people in my life. By exhibiting these collected images I create situations in which questions can be asked of the pictures that surround us: How do pictures affect how we live our lives? Do pictures impact the stories we tell about ourselves? What do we learn from looking? Though I am uncertain of the cultural and social impact of images, I undertake these projects with a sense of wonder-celebrating the occasion to ask these questions. Finally, I find the practice of soliciting and collecting to be a kind of positive generator; the projects connect me to the world in a way that is transgressive in its reliance upon (and encouragement of) interaction.

Allen Ginsburg credited William Carlos Williams with teaching him that there were “…no ideas but in things”. Through the acts of photographing, soliciting, collecting, sorting, and re-contextualizing, I’m looking at things in order to ask questions of my world and its pictures.


Employing personal and collected snapshots, Michael Lease's work encourages viewers to consider the cultural use of photographs. For the project Posthumous, first exhibited in 2005, Lease uses his own images and recollections, turning a quasi-anthropological eye onto his own past.

Through the combination of snapshots and texts, Posthumous distills years' worth of intimate moments between Lease, various friends, and lovers. Wheat-pasted directly to the gallery walls, the intimate yet familiar images, coupled with handwritten vignettes, belie a mountain of experience beyond the frame. Simultaneously personal and universal, Posthumous asks viewers to reflect on their own pictures, weighing the similarities of these stories against their own.

Like the obituaries, public memorials, and remembrance walls that Lease credits as inspiration for the work, the gallery is used as a space in which a story about the past can be told. By inserting private images into a public space, Lease pays homage to the people that shaped him, while reminding us of the power that our images have to shape our histories-no matter how tucked away we may keep them.

Allison Peck

American University, 2010

Click to view Posthumous

Send Me The Pillow That You Dream On

For Send Me the Pillow that You Dream On I solicited pictures from friends, family, former students, and acquaintances in an effort to create a multifaceted group portrait. Participants were asked to send 4 photographs: a school picture from between the ages 13-17, a picture of the pillow on which they sleep, a picture shot though an oft-viewed domestic window, and a current picture of themselves.

In gathering and exhibiting these images, I'm wondering what happens when photographs from all of these lives are brought together. Is it possible to infer from the portraits the history that occurred between the making of the picture from high school and the one from 3 months ago? Does seeing the images - the pillow with its neighboring lamp and alarm clock, or the window views, be they of the Maryland countryside or Berlin - contribute to our understanding of the subject?

What it is that we learn from looking?

Click to view Send Me The Pillow That You Dream On

You're Invited: Cakes, Candles,
Pictures and Words

I began collecting images for You're Invited shortly after having found a Kodachrome slide showing the back of a man as he blew out birthday candles. I was thrilled by the funny confluence of elements-the yellow curtains, the man's blue shirt, the boxy, old refrigerator, and a woman's hand breaking into the edge of the frame holding a glass of water. All of this came together to create a vernacular Garry Winogrand, or one of Henri Cartier-Bresson's decisive moments. Finding this slide also made plain the ubiquity of this type of image. I was curious to see how similar other pictures (of this type) were to this thrift store gem.

I wanted the images to be solicited from people with whom I was close, so I wrote letters to my friends' mothers asking them to send a similar picture of my friend. I also asked the mothers to write about the time when the picture was taken. After receiving the pictures and letters, I emailed the pictures to my friends asking that they also write about the photographs. I was interested in how the memories of the day and the reactions to the pictures would differ. When gathered together and exhibited alongside one another, the photographs and the texts of the mothers and the children allow for a story more complicated than expected from a seemingly sweet and charming subject.

The work consists of fifteen photographs and scans of the letters and emails from the participants.

Click to view You're Invited

Walking Blues

Walking Blues is the name I have given to my ever-expanding collection of found photographs. I have coveted others’ lost or discarded pictures for over two decades. The collection includes hundreds of photographs of strangers and their pets, vacations, babies, bedrooms, parties, husbands, and wives. As evidenced by their quality in this excerpt, the majority of these images weren’t purchased or gleaned from thrift store bins. By and large, they were found close to home- while riding my bike, perusing copy shop trashcans, peering beneath the lids of supermarket photo scanners, walking through parking lots, riding trains…

I am drawn to these images not only because of the thrill of the find, but also the thrill of a view into the worlds of people I don’t know.

Walking Blues has yet to exhibited.

Click to view Walking Blues